With My Soul Clenched

The look of relief that spread across Xander's face made her heart alternate between swelling and breaking. So there had been no spark between them, big deal. At least now she could put this all behind her. They could go on being friends. She could go on being alone. Doing nothing but working on magic. Like the spell. "Oh my god, the spell!" Willow leapt to her feet, "Xander, I can put Spike's soul back in!"

Chapter Twenty-Four

Buffy's face closed itself up into an unreadable expression. "No," she said quietly, spinning on her heel and continuing to walk purposefully through the graveyard.

"But it wouldn't hurt him. I mean, the part that hurts…"

"No!" Buffy exclaimed more forcefully as she whirled around to face Willow again. "You're not getting it. That was the easy part. Putting the soul back in, that's the part that hurts. Every evil thing he ever did, he gets to relive. Every person he killed, everyone he ever hurt, every single tear-stained face comes to visit." Buffy let her gaze fall. "I don't want to put him through that."

Willow sighed. "Don't you think its safer though?"

Buffy's stare returned to Willow. "Spike would never do anything like that. Not now. He knows it would… He knows what I would have to do."

Willow nodded, chewing on her lower lip as she gathered up her inner strength. "Ok, right, so assuming he never stops loving you, because, you know, its not like couples don't fall out of love sometimes, what happens when you die, Buffy?" Willow put as much of herself behind her own stare as she faced down her eminently tougher and more powerful friend. "What happens when the leash is off, Buffy? What happens when he has no reason to be good anymore? Do you really think that for the whole rest of eternity he would never bite anyone, never kill anyone, ever, just to be faithful to your memory?"

When Buffy's head fell, Willow wasn't sure if she should consider herself triumphant or just plain mean. "You're right," Buffy's voice was tiny, "You're right. Of course, you're right. Why would he? Why, why would anyone? It'd be silly. I guess I just never… never thought about it."

"Kinda always figured we'd go out together in a blaze of bloody glory, m'self," Spike's voice cut through the still night. "Not that anyone was looking for my opinion."

"Spike," Buffy exclaimed in dismay. "It's not… I wouldn't decide this. Not without telling you."

Spike strolled over, a cigarette pressed tightly between his lips, the only outward sign of his emotions. "Think you mean 'talking with me,' pet. Or do you?" He sneered slightly at the two girls. "Maybe I'm the one who's mistaken. Is it my soul? I mean, really mine? Am I mine? Or do I belong to the Slayer? Just a puppy with a leash?" His eyes were dark as flashed dangerously at Willow, "Isn't that how you put it, Red? What happens when the leash is off?"

"Spike," Buffy groaned, her hands running through her hair, "It isn't like that."

"Isn't it?" Spike's smile was cold, all teeth and sharpness. "Maybe your mate is right, maybe there's still monster lurking under the man. What then, love? What would you do if I killed someone? If I picked some tasty little tart from the club and…"

"Spike!" Buffy cried, "Stop it! What the hell? Why are you doing this?" Her eyes were wide as her voice rose in volume. She stepped forward, nose to nose now, all thoughts of their one-person audience gone. "Why are you making a big deal out of this?"

"It is a big deal, Buffy," he replied in a hiss. "What would happen if some night I slipped and stuck my teeth in some bird's throat? What if I drank down all that lovely, rich, red, pumping blood? Would you do it, pet? Would you stick a stake in my chest?" His eyes glittered in the moonlight. "What if I'd already done it?"

Willow stood stock still, afraid to move for fear of the two figures before her. She'd never seen either look so dangerous as they did now. Spike a dark shadow of menace, and Buffy a trigger ready to spring, practically shaking with anger. Willow swallowed hard, feeling the blood leave her face. The sound of a slap echoed across the graveyard. For a long moment the two figures stood in tableau, Buffy's hand still raised, even as it trembled in the air.

"That's it, love," Spike growled, "Why don't you tell us how you really feel?"

Willow was torn, but in the end it seemed like it should be a private moment. At least that was what she told herself as she turned and ran. There were some things friends shouldn't see. And deep down, right where it probably mattered most, neither Buffy nor Spike was exactly normal. Or human, really. The way they chose to deal with things, that was ultimately up to them, wasn't it? In the end, Willow felt a little like a coward, but she also felt safe.

"How I really feel?" Buffy spat. "How I really feel is that right now you're being…"

"What, Buffy?" His hands wrapped around her wrists, shaking her slightly as he glared at her, blue eyes boring holes into her green ones. "What am I?"

For a moment, she thought better of it. For a moment she realized she could end this stupidity and could bring them back to their happy little romance and they could laugh this off. And then Spike tightened his grip and pulled her back into the violence in his eyes. "A monster," she hissed, too caught up now in the fight to listen to the little part of her that burned with disappointment, even as his grip loosened.

"And that's what you wanted me to say, isn't it?" Buffy cried, pulling herself from his grasp and using her freed hands to push his chest. "Isn't it?"

"Thought it was what I am, pet," he replied venomously, letting her propel him back only a step or two before grabbing her right arm and wrenching it back at a painful angle. He stepped in, tugging her arm a little harder so that she was forced to stand against him, "A monster. Hardly worth your respect, is it?"

Buffy used his position against him and flipped him to the ground. In a moment she was astride him, her thighs pinning him down. One clenched fist hung in the air, poised above his chest. Spike smiled bitterly, as his eyes motioned towards the fist. "Think you forgot something there, Slayer."

Buffy ground her teeth, slamming her clenched fist against his chest. "How could you even think…" she exclaimed, her voice a frustrated howl. "How could you… Why the hell would I… How could…" she paused, sniffling as tears brimmed up in her eyes. "Oh damnit," she muttered, "When the hell did I start crying?"

"You couldn't do it, could you, love?" Spike's voice was completely calm, concern in his tone as he lay prone on the cemetery grass. "Even if I murdered someone, you couldn't do it."

"Spike!" Buffy exclaimed, sniffling against the tears, "Why… How the hell could I?" She sat limply on his body, hunched in self pity. "I love you, you moron," she said pitifully. "It doesn't matter what I'm supposed to do. It's… it'd still be you." She paused, "And I mean, you'd have a good reason…" she trailed off, finally looking him in the eye as he leaned up on his elbows to look at her critically, "Wouldn't you?"

Spike sat up, wrapping an arm around Buffy as he nuzzled into her neck, inhaling the very smell of her. "I think you need to tell Red to go ahead with her magicking."

Buffy stiffened. "Wait," she pulled away from him far enough to look at him askance. "You agree with her?" She watched him fidget ever so slightly. "What the hell was with… with all the… the offense-taking, and the talking, and the rarr rarr I'm a big bad…." Buffy went white. "You… you fucking manipulated me."

Spike laughed, his eyes dancing in mockery of her rage as he tackled her backward onto the grass. "Had to test the theory, love. How else was I gonna get you at your wit's end?"

"That's not," she began, Spike's kiss interrupting her, "You could have, mffph, you could have asked!"

"You wouldn't be honest," Spike replied, nibbling her ear delicately, "You'd put on a tough face and say you'd do what needed to be done, and we'd go on existing entirely uncertain what would actually happen." He paused long enough to look at her straight. "You know I'm right, love."

Buffy squirmed beneath his body, every cell and fragment of her being longingly reaching out towards him. "Damnit," she whispered softly, "You mean I love you too much?"

His eyes were the deepest blue as he gazed down at her, "Don't worry, kitten," he murmured, his voice sounding hoarse, "the feeling is mutual."

Willow was fiddling with some sort of talisman, her wary eyes focused on the glowing ball in Xander's hands. "I think you are making a very responsible decision," Giles was saying in a lecture-like tone to Spike, who's attention was primarily focused on Buffy. Buffy stood close enough to Spike that to get any closer, she'd have to be inside his skin.

"It's going to be fine," Xander said comfortingly, "Willow has this. And look," he gestured to the glowing globe in his hands, "Shiny."

Spike snorted. "Brilliant. Put my soul in his capable hands." Buffy shook her head slightly, the hand grasping Spike's tightening enough for her knuckles to go white. "Shiny," Spike muttered, his free hand ghosting over their joined hands. He was nervous about this whole thing too, though he would never freely admit it.

Xander looked at the couple's joined hands and sighed inwardly. They really needed each other. They were in love, of course, but there was something very tangible in the air around them whenever they were together. Like they had some hyper-awareness of each other. Even when they were arguing, you could practically see the bond they had pulling them together.

Xander shook his head, gathering himself to help Willow with the spell. She smiled up at him from behind her red hair, her eyes alive with curiosity and excitement over the magicks involved. With a quick turn of his head, Xander could see Giles still lecturing to the couple immersed in their own silent emotionally communication. Giles was a little greyer, a little more frayed around the edges since his return from England, but he was here, and that was what really mattered. The whole gang, involved in something probably way bigger than they could probably dream of at the moment.

Xander smiled. Everything was alright. It was the way it should be. And the gods only knew what tomorrow would bring.

"I'm ready when you guys are," Willow announced.

The End (More or less)

OK, first off I want to thank everyone who's put up with me while I got this beastie done. I know I had a painfully long hiatus, and anyone who is still reading this has the patience of a saint. I hope this ending doesn't disappoint - and of course, if anyone out there with a flair for writing wants to adopt my little story and write the sequel, feel free to PM me. I can pretty much guarantee my permission. I won't be writing the sequel, on account of having a number of other stories out there that need finishing, and because my school work is trying to drown me. I hope you've all enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.